Stratospheric reach of space studies program


The launch of a stratospheric satellite on Australia Day, by International Space University students is expected to be a highlight of this year’s Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program (SH-SSP) that began earlier this month at UniSA.

A high-altitude balloon being launched during a previous Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program.A high-altitude balloon being launched during a previous Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program.

The stratospheric satellite will ride a high-altitude balloon to the edge of space before returning to Earth by parachute, bringing back images and data that can be used to improve agriculture and food security.

This year’s SH-SSP, which was opened by Minister for Education and Training, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, has drawn together 32 participants from 10 different countries to learn about all aspects of international space activities – from satellite applications to human space exploration to space policy.

UniSA Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical and Mechatronics) student Tristan Perkins is one of the participants, describing the program as a “golden opportunity”.

“I have always had a fascination and love for all things space and aerospace related so this program was a great way to foster that enthusiasm while being in a supportive, learning environment, surrounded by other students, academics and professionals,” Tristan says.

“I want to get an insight into the many intricacies and facets that go on within the space/aerospace industry both in Australia and abroad and I’m particularly interested in the aspects involving space engineering, systems integration and how these aspects can impact and enhance the human spaceflight experience.

“I would be ecstatic to do anything that involved working on aerospace components that would one day make it into space; so becoming an engineer, particularly a propulsion or systems integration engineer, would be high on my list of ideal careers.

“But anything that I can do in order to make space more accessible to the masses by driving the cost of spaceflight down and by making human spaceflight safer as well as more efficient and effective would be amazing. The Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program will give me exposure to the latest in the industry and to the other students, many of whom, have experience in these fields.

“Attending this program is an opportunity like no other for a student in my situation, and because it is held at UniSA, it’s one that I could not pass up.”

The launch of the stratospheric satellite to reach “near space”, 25 kilometres above Mount Barker in the Adelaide Hills, will form part of that learning experience.

The launch exercise will contribute both data and practical experience toward this year’s SH-SSP group project, which investigates how space technologies and space systems can be best used to improve the production, monitoring and availability of global food and water needs.

John Connolly, who most recently held the position of NASA’s Chief Exploration Scientist leads the International Space University’s SH-SSP in 2016.

He says the stratospheric satellite project represents the equivalent of a sub-orbital rocket launch, with its small payload of sensors demonstrating the value and application of space science in regard to Earth bound priorities.

“As a practical preparation for our White Paper group research project on food and water security, the stratospheric satellite project will allow the SH-SSP participants to get hands-on experience in preparing and launching a payload and performing the collection and analysis of visible and near infra-red images of local South Australian agricultural areas,” says Connolly.

“The main focus of the stratospheric satellite project is viticulture, since the vineyards will be actively growing crops in January. The cultivation of vineyards requires careful assessment of the application of irrigation, fertilisers, herbicides and of crop growth.

“The use of airborne and high resolution satellite imaging is common practice in precision viticulture and we hope to expand these techniques to monitor the security of other food and water sources.”

For the wider community, four public events are also taking place as part of the program, including an International Astronaut Panel at the Allan Scott Auditorium, this evening (January 14), in which space experts including Canadian Astronaut and medical specialist, Dr Bob Thirsk and former European Space Agency Astronaut and scientist, Dr Jean-Jacques Favier of France will discuss and answer questions about what life is like in space.

Other events include forums on space and security, space entrepreneurship and how space has influenced popular culture. See UniSA’s events calendar for more details.